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Cybersecurity Expert Explains How Online Thieves Aim To Score On Busy Cyber Monday

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- Cyber Monday is shaping up to be one the largest single shopping days in history this year with an estimated $9.4 billion dollars to be spent this holiday season, a $1.5 billion increase from the previous year, according to Adobe Analytics' Holiday Forecast.

"17 million Americans are going to buy online today. So this is a big honeypot for the criminals to look at it," said Ahmed Banafa, San Jose State cybersecurity expert.

Banafa said Cyber Monday is the perfect time to remind the public of best practices for safe shopping online and also to examine some new tactics digital thieves are incorporating.

First and foremost, he advises to not use public Wi-Fi for shopping. Ever.

"That is asking for trouble. This is one where a lot of criminals will intercept that communication," said Banafa.

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Secondly, Banafa said phishing scams, where crooks send emails that look like they originate from legitimate retailers, have cleaned up their writing and are becoming ever more slick and sophisticated.

To be safe, never click on a link or QR code sent in an email. Instead, go directly to the website, said Banafa.

"Because the criminals are getting smarter, they know that people can find some mistakes on the email like spelling or grammar," said Banafa.

When paying for the purchase, look for the "padlock" icon in the address bar of your browser and opt for credit cards instead of debit cards, since credit cards offer more protections. Also, disable international transactions to make it harder for thieves overseas to use a stolen card number.

To limit the damage from security breaches, experts advise customers to formulate unique passwords for each retailer. That way, if a password is stolen, it cannot be used to hack into other websites.

When researching a product or new online retailer, be wary of fake reviews, said Banafa. Fake reviews will typically number in the dozens, be submitted within a small time frame, and will often have similar language or phrases that have been copied and pasted. The fake reviewers often speak in broad generalities and avoid specifics.

Legitimate reviews, however, often feature contributions from customers with a "Verified Purchase" and typically number in the hundreds or thousands.

Lastly, a relatively new phenomenon called "Grinchbots" is where online crooks use software code to snap up online deals at lightning speed. The items are then resold at third party websites, enticing bargain hunters to give up credit card and personal information in the process, which are then later exploited.

"Greed clouds our decisions. When we see something so good, we just jump there. Keep in mind, if it's too good to be true, then it's too good to be true," said Banafa.

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